Leading from the Left

Friday, April 27, 2007

Legislative Action on Environmental bills

At the begining of the month, I indicated that I'd spend most of April blogging on environmental issues....since the 22nd was Earth Day. I'd thought I'd wrap up the month with a brief update on some of the key environmental bills in the legislature this session.

Hazardous Materials Bill (HB 36). The House Environment committee approved a the hazardous waste bill yesterday. The measure, sponsored by Jennifer Weiss of Cary, is based on recommendations made by the Hazardous Waste Materials Task Force set up by Governor Easley after last October's explosion and fire in Apex.

The bill now moves on to the full House. It will require commercial hazardous waste facilities to renew their permits at least every five years instead of the current 10-year cycle. Additionally, nearby property owners will have to be notified of the permitting process if they live within a quarter-mile of a proposed storage site.

We expect this bill to pass the House.

Organic Economic Opportunities Study (HB 1600). I'm providing minor assistance to Fawn Pattison at Agricultural Resources on an Organic Farming Study bill. The House version has been sponsored by Rep. Bill Faison who chairs the Agribusiness and Agricultural Economy Committee.

Sedimentation Inspectors. The Conservation Council, the organization for which I work, has been very supportive of a provision in the governor's for 7 new sedimentation inspector positions in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). We've been working hard to make sure these positions are stay in the budget as it moves through the General Assembly's budgetary meat grinder. The governor has requested these positions every budget cycle since he's been in office, but they're always cut by the legislature. DENR desperately needs this increase as they now only have 32 inspectors to cover 9,100 sites statewide.

Energy. As I've mentioned in previous posts, there are several important bills this year dealing with renewable energy. The two key bills are SB 3 and HB 77, both of which would establish require utilities operating in NC to acquire between 10% and 20% of their energy from renewable sources such as wind, solar, and landfill gases.

The Senate created a stakeholders process to work out a compromise agreement that all parties could support. The stakeholders include the environmental community, the utilities, and other interested parties. There is growing worry that what will emerge from this process will include things we don't like (I keep hearing rumors about nuclear power, for example). I'm hoping the House bill starts moving soon, because if it passed we'd have significantly more leverage on the Senate side to stave off bad compromises.

Hogs. North Carolina's moratorium on new hog waste lagoons expires this year, so a number of bills have been introduced that would permanently prohibit new lagoons from being constructed. Some bills are better than others. The Senate passed Sen. Charlie Albertson's swine bill. It's not a bad bill, but Carolyn Justice's bill in the House is stronger (HB 1115) mainly because it creates a fund to provide clean water for people whose wells have been contaminated--this is a huge environmental justice issue. A coalition of environmental and environmental justice groups is working for passage of Justice's bill. In addition to providing clean water for those with contaminated wells, H1115 will 1) permanently ban new lagoons and sprayfields, 2) help farmers who implement cleaner technologies, and 3) protect communities from the impacts of abandoned hog waste lagoons.

Other developments of note....

Clean Water Lobby Day. Clean Water Lobby Day is Wednesday May 2nd. Citizen activists from around the state will come to Raleigh to lobby on 3 key water-related issues: sedimentation (the inspectors, mentioned earlier in this memo), Carolyn Justice's good swine bill, and bills to amend the interbasin transfer law.

Green Tie Dinner. Well, you've heard of black tie dinners, right? The Conservation Council is holding our second "Green Tie Dinner" on May 23rd at the Capital Club in Raleigh. We will be honoring Speaker Joe Hackney (a former Board member), Carolyn Justice, Pricey Harrison, and Janet Cowell. Shoot me an email if you'd like to come and I'll make sure you get an invite. My work email is mike@conservationcouncilnc.org.

We are soliciting sponsors right now as well and would love to have you all join us as a sponsor of this event. I've joined as a $250 sponsor and would love to see each of you. Please contact me or our Executive Director, Carrie Clark, if you'd like to sponsor. Carrie can be reached at 839-0006.